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Low-cost tribunals for reviewing police cautions

Comment 20th July 2010

From the experience of a friend of mine I believe many people have been pressured into accepting police cautions by target-chasing police, for trivial offences or where they were innocent or even a victim of crime. (The last is certainly possible in cases of domestic violence, here if an incident is reported police they are under pressure to issue a sanction against someone, and they may not care too much who it is.). The legacy of these poisons relations between the police and the public. They are administered without proper safeguards by officers who need a success and accused people may be 'defended' by duty solicitors on fixed fees with no particular incentive to put themselves out for their clients.  They are administered so easily and are so difficult to remove: it involves a judicial review for which no public funding is available and is either ferociously expensive or, if the applicant is unrepresented, very difficult.   I am sure many vulnerable people have accepted cautions just to get out of the police station, without realising the consequences until later..  If they are administered so easily they ought to be reviewed easily, by people independent of the police, lay people, similar to magistrates.  I am sure there would be no shortage of ideas in the ‘Big Society’.  Applicants could pay a modest fee, to deter trivial applications.  Perhaps also there should be a cooling-off period for those who have been pressured into accepting cautions.  If cautions were judged by the same standards as the selling of financial services I am sure there would be found to be many cases of mis-selling.

I invite the administrator to contact me directly if they wish to know more detail about the case which has caused me to reflect on these issues.

Why does this matter?

Relations between police and many members of the public have been poisoned by police chasing soft-targets – a consequence of general police target culture.  This would undo some of the legacy.  I suspect many young and vulnerable people have been pressured into accepting cautions for the most trivial matters or indeed for nothing at all, to satisfy target-chasing police and this can have profound effects on a person's employment.  Many people are being quite needlessly debarred from certain employments as a consequence of this, which doesn't make economic sense, and the jobs may go to those whose backgrounds can't so readily be checked. As long as there are those suffering such consequences police/public relations will not be fully repaired.

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